Most experts on divided societies and institutional design broadly agree that it is more difficult to establish and maintain a stable, functioning democracy in a country with multiple languages and linguistically fragmented public spheres than in more homogeneous countries.
Multilingual countries such as Canada and Belgium have been experiencing considerable difficulties in past decades (see the almost successful 1995 referendum on sovereignty in Quebec or the institutional deadlock and the rise of Flemish nationalism in Belgium since the 1970s). The prospects for the EU to become a viable democracy are even more haunted by multilingualism, considering that it has 24 official languages and no lingua franca.
Switzerland, however, is also a multilingual country without a lingua franca, fragmented into 22 mono-lingual and three multilingual cantons, as well as into four distinct public spheres (German, French, Italian, Romansh). And yet it is widely seen as one of the most stable and successful democracies.
Conventional wisdom in political science literature suggests that “consociational” political institutions account for the success of Swiss multilingual democracy. This book offers a different institutional explanation. The author argues that in mainstream literature important Swiss institutions – in particular direct democracy, Parliament and the federal executive – have largely been misinterpreted: they have been labelled as consociational, whereas they are rather a product of “centripetalism”, an approach to institutional design in which political incentives are directed toward intergroup compromise because of the need to appeal to voters across group lines in order to form majorities. This approach to achieving long-term democratic stability stands in sharp contrast to consociationalism.
Nenad Stojanović is a Swiss National Science Foundation Professor of Political Science at the University of Geneva.
1. Introduction: Democracy in a Multilingual Country
Part I: The Idea of a Multilingual Nation
2. When is a Country Multinational?
3. The Acid Test? Competing Theses on the Nationality-Democracy Nexus and the Case of Switzerland
Part II: Centripetal Institutions: Direct Democracy and Electoral Systems
4. Centripetal Effects of Direct Democracy
5. Direct Democracy and Minorities
6. Do Multicultural Democracies Really Need Proportional Representation?
7. Does the Choice of Electoral System for Parliament Have an Impact on the Multi-Ethnic Composition of the Cabinet? Conceptual Issues in Light of the Swiss Example
8. Party, Regional and Linguistic Proportionality Under Majoritarian Rules: Swiss Federal Council Elections
Part III: Multilingual Democracies in Comparison
9. A Federal Electoral District for Belgium: An Appraisal with Three Amendments
10. Political Parties in Deeply Multilingual Polities (Belgium, Canada, Switzerland): Institutional Conditions and Lessons for the European Union
11. Conclusion: Switzerland, A Linguistic Consociation?
Two main insights will have been gained after reading this book, one each for activists and academics. First, it is not always necessary for a democracy to become multinational so as to remain multicultural. Instead, given the right mix of political institutions, even deep cultural differences can be reconciled with an overarching sense of togetherness and ensuing stability. Second, although often cited as a prime example of a successful consociation, Switzerland in fact owes much of its political success to centripetal institutions…. At the end of the day, while 11 chapters might seem a lot and a few have already been published in one form or the other over the span of 15 years, the voyage through all of them is a light, eventful and pleasant one.
Nenad Stojanovic is among the most perceptive scholars writing on the politics of multiethnic and multilingual societies. In this book, he argues convincingly that the conventional academic wisdom about Switzerland is profoundly in need of revision. Stojanovic shows that Switzerland’s polity and its peace are built on institutions that encourage the building of cross-cultural majorities, rather than on group guarantees—and he provides the evidence for this singularly important conclusion by diving deeply into the actual workings of the Swiss political system.
Where lies the secret of the success of Switzerland’s multilingual democracy? Not in the way in which it applies the consociational model, but in the way in which it deviates from it. In this illuminating book, Nenad Stojanović uses his thorough knowlege of the fine grain of Swiss institutions, his sharp understanding of the mechanisms at work and his first-hand acquaintance with similar challenges elsewhere in order to establish this unorthodox claim — and in order to draw lessons that can be of great value in many other places in Europe and in the world.